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Marco and Volpe
by abs007



He had never really gotten over that one strike by Volpe, his longtime opponent and challenger for the gutpunching title. Bit it was not a fair hit, and everyone knew it. It was meant to put him out of action permanently. Though it failed to do that, still, when Volpe caught Marco unflexed just under the navel seconds before a requested break, he knew things would never be the same. One deep breath, a stretch, another deep inflow of air to his heart-racing upper chest and then, fully relaxed, his brawn in to allow most air into the upper chamber under his sternum, came the spearfist that got past muscle a good four inches into his core. The break was over but Marco was also broken somewhere he couldn't have reached with the palm of his hand groping fingers as he buckled and his legs gave way.
That was a year ago. He had gotten to his feet and finished the competition, landing a few power strikes of his own but taking a lot more to the solar plexus than he wanted to dodge anything aimed at his navel or lower. An hour later, stretched out on the training room table, he realized the damage was permanent. Beppo's sensitive, knowing hands brought the rest of Marco's gut to a rest, but even they were refused access to that spot behind and under Marco's belly button god-deep in his champion's belly.
"You can't do it again, man. Something's been hurt in there, much bad; no, no, much bad. Let me feel." Marco reflexively blocked his second's hand. He needed help sitting up and the pain in that one spot was so keen he grabbed his underbelly with one hand, lowering himself back with Beppo's help. He rested his hand over the spot, groaning, his eyes closed, his mouth half open. His left hand covered the ends of the other's clutching fingers. A long deep breath brought agony as a wave of pain extended up through his stomach and down into the taper of his groin. His mouth opened more as Beppo gently rubbed his friend's upper abs and rested his other hand just above Marco's bush. Another hour passed before Marco could walk to the shower.
He cancelled the summer "games," a special underground contest for the best in the world and first-time gutpunching competitors who met for no rules sessions. He watched them though. One match featured Volpe up against a series of three competitors from different martial arts. Volpe was in top form and took out all three with his spear strikes to the underbelly of his opponent.
Since their encounter six months before, Marco had stopped training for almost ten weeks to let the deep bruising heal. But when he started his intensive training regimen again, Marco knew he would have to protect that spot for the rest of his life.
He began to think about the annual Top Choice event would take place again in late December. This contest was not optional and his career would again be on the line, as it had been for almost a decade. If he didn't compete annually, Marco was no longer considered to be the best and was automatically stripped of his title. At 26, he had experience and could compete for another six to ten years-if he wanted to risk taking sustained punishment in his lower abdomen or, worse, absorb one mega hit, just there at that spot, that would finish him.
Training every day for four months, the little weight he had gained around the middle was gone. Every thick ridge of muscle was clear and hard. Veins like lightning reached up from under his trunks alongside Marco's well-recognized thin strip of dark hair leading a perfect line up to his navel. The fingertips of the veins seemed to be holding his lower belly and pointing to the center of his body just under the navel. And there was that characteristic slight roundness just below the navel that men with a narrow chest wall and thick abdominals tend to show. Marco always fingered the mound before competitions, lowering his trunks on either side an inch or two with his thumbs to draw the eyes of his audience to the place where would at one time been ready to be put to the test, where most men never want to be hit. He generally arched back at that moment, straining his powerful abdominals tight. In sparring, the ritual was the same, but now as he snapped tight his belly armor many months after the hit he suffered from that Volpe delivered, he felt that slight ache that would not go away, winced and let his right hand rest on the rounded place, his hot sweet spot and now way into Marco that he feared his opponents would find. For as long as he could remember, that had been the favorite place on his midsection. Now it was also his most vulnerable place.
Word was out that something had happened in the Volpe match, but no one was talking. Facing Volpe again a year later would be the finale of The Choice events and everyone wanted to see what would happen. They could then figure out what had happened in the previous encounter. Marco wasn't talking about it so that no one would take advantage of him. Volpe wasn't talking, since he wanted it to appear that he was taking apart Marco's undefeated gut when they met next and didn't really know for sure-at least for a while-just how seriously he had hurt Marco.
Volpe didn't play fair and wanted Marco out of the gutpunching scene altogether. He remembered their encounter and had seen that look in an opponent's eyes when he was really hurt somewhere, but in the flurry of strikes, he hadn't noticed where exactly his powerful knuckles had caught Marco just before he went down. Maybe it was a solar plexus shot. Maybe it was-somewhere else. Marco had turned away and dropped to his knees and all Volpe knew was that it was Marco's stomach that had suffered. But, of course-but where exactly? His handler, Strega, had an idea.
Go to Beppo and find out. Bepo was a small guy with strong, gentle hands, but no body puncher. He had been turned on to the scene and lived off the excitement of his champion's life. Every match he watched Marco work through was a major event in Beppo's life. He knew he would have the privilege of easing the strain of Marco's abs after they had been worked over for 20 minutes. That was enough for him.
Strega found him one afternoon two days after the match with Volpe and cornered him. "So where is Marco hurting, little man?" "What meaning? Nobody hurts. No!" He instinctively knew what Strega wanted to know and tried to back away. He had massaged the place and seen his champion react in a way that was a first for him. Suddenly hammer-locked, Strega jabbed Beppo's young but undeveloped midsection, not much but hard enough to make him gag. "Oof!" as he took an uppercut under the sternum. Another straight-on fist caught the 130-pound man in the pit of the stomach. "Here?" screamed Strega. "Is this where you fine man can't take it any more?" Three punches more later and Beppo was half sick himself, huddled over a sore gut. "More?" "No, no! Wait!" Beppo choked, gasping, groaning. "I can't, man-won't." Beppo was now on his side on the ground. Strega drew back to kick him in the stomach, but just in time to stop it, Beppo held up his left arm. With his right hand he pulled his sweats lower and pointed out on his own body where Marco had been damaged. "Right on here. Here. Here! Now please stop. The hair-the rounded---." And again he pointed to the exact spot just below his navel on his very thin belly, now red from Strega's punches. Strega again drew back his foot, but decided against it. Instead he slapped Beppo on the lower belly, laughed, and again slapped him, this time on the face, leaving the little man with a swollen eye and a lot of regret. "What have I done?" he thought to himself. He covered he place where Strega had slapped him in the belly. He had an image of that place on Marco's body.
Strega brought the news to Volpe, who sneered. Pulling up his own shirt, his saggers riding low to the top of his bush, he smiled, pointing to the area just under his navel, pressing in. "Do it to him there and he's finished." He saw that place on his own body and imagined it on Marco's abdomen. "He's not up for anything there is my guess. I've got him if I get him there."
Volpe started to spar regularly. In exactly twenty days he would meet Marco in front of the few thousand guys from around the world who met annually for a contest unlike any other between two men. Every partner he worked with took their turn as Volpe refined his fists' accuracy-uppercuts, down-hits, and the deadly spear strike-to that spot just under the navel. Again and again, his work-out partners broke down under the impact of a perfectly placed hit. He even discovered that his own body was sensitive there. That explained something.. He didn't know anything about anatomy but he guessed there is a sweet spot in every man's body torso there, right there, almost midway between the navel and the bony top of the pelvis-the suprapubic arch-a place that is more vulnerable than the navel itself and connected to every kind of intense feeling the male body is capable of.
Beppo showed up at Marco's next sparring session. "What the fuck happened to you?" Beppo couldn't get the words out at first. "Oh, man-it was Volpe's second. He knows!" "Knows what?" Marco asked, wide-eyed. And Beppo told the guy whose gut he admired more than anything and took care of when it had been pummeled.
At first, Marco was indifferent. He ran a few fingers over his upper abs, which were as hard as bicycle tires. Then he feather touched his navel feeling the hair around it as his fingers traced its slightly vertical elongation. Then just under it. Now he took in a deep breath, pulled in his belly and pushed tightly with two fingers on that spot. Only now did what Beppo say sink in. It hurt even now when he probed in that area-after all this time. He bent over his hand. "Damn! Damn!" Looking up-"fucking stomach." And he hit himself there, so hard that let out a groan. Shaking his head, he knew he was in trouble. Beppo's swollen eye was wet. So was the other one. He turned away.
Now came the contest. Marco had tried to have it postponed, and as reigning champion he might have had a chance, but it was not to happen. He would have to meet Volpe as scheduled, at 3 pm the following Saturday, exactly one week off. He began a power training regimen as he always did before the Top Choice: mostly leg raises to strengthen the lower abs. There would be two hours in the morning for the upper rows of stomach muscle, two hours in the afternoon for the midsection proper, and, finally, from 7 to 9, leg raises, lying down, lifted and held at 4", then 6", then 8" with no break, to a burn, followed by hanging leg raises from his chinning bar. On the first day of the routine, he set about the evening session only to find out that leg raises were impossible to do, the stress over an under that spot in his underbelly being too painful. How would he strengthen this area to the max if the muscles and understructure were damaged and he couldn't work them? The week would pass and strength would be less than it was now. Tightness in that area would soften from lack of exercising it. Marco's upper abs might be tighter than ever, ridged and gleaming after the earlier workouts. But where he was most in danger of being beaten was off limits to the stress of exercising it. Around his navel and at the obliques, he was also still pretty strong, but below, from his body's birth scar down to the pubic arch he was as strong as any athlete in any sport, but for the onslaught of gutpunching, he was no where near being hard enough. Sinewy muscle, yes, but only that. Impossible. And when he flexed his who abdomen or pressed in over the tuft of hair, he felt an ache.
Volpe knew what he would do, and he was determined to take advantage of Marco's disabled gut to take the championship. He knew that if one part of the whole of a man's stomach is out of commission, the rest is less than it could be when it was about taking punches and not just exercising. Any pain anywhere would radiate everywhere in his opponent's gut, what Marco liked to call his "second face." Like everyone in the gutpunching fetish group, he liked to think of a man's midsection as like a second way of identifying the guy. The midsections all look alike in a certain way when they are developed and the muscles well-defined, but each one is as different from all the others, just as it is with faces. Volpe was determined to get the title, which Marco had held for seven years. In his ten years competing, Marco one the title the first year, but defaulted the second year on some technicality. He came back though, and from the third year on had been the best. Volpe wanted to see an unheard-of submission from Marco, who would signal that he couldn't take any more in the stomach by placing his hand over the spot where his opponent had gotten to him, tap it twice and turn away. Gutpunchers aren't allowed to touch their abs or any part of their midsection during a competition. That would be a sign of weakness-unless they had really been weakened and had to call it off. This Marco had never done and was determined he would never do in front of a crowd, no matter how much pain he was in. Now Saturday was approaching. Throughout the week, without thinking about it, he would tap his lower belly. He caught himself doing it. This overrode what he couldn't let himself do in a contest, but something was getting the better of what he knew he must not do-ever.
He would pull the waistband of his shorts below that spot, rub his underbelly. He would go to sleep with his hand protectively covering that spot, as if anticipating an unpredictable strike there, to that part of his body he had always most prized and now where he most feared being hurt-again.
Volpe, meanwhile, rehearsed his attack strategy. He would pound away at Marco's upper stomach, which were still strong, he knew, but compromised when suddenly flexed, in an emergency. Using a standing model of a man's torso, a punching bag in the form of a male body that dodged and weaved, he practiced aiming his spear strike with maximum force to that spot. He practiced the strike with each fist, with the pointed knuckle strike that was allowed and had become his trademark. He drove it downward, with the left and then with the right fist, into a pit of wet sand. He knew that punches coming from above at a 45 degree angle had more force and got greater depth than even the strongest straight-on punch. The abdominal musculature holds the body up and hitting it in a way that would make it turn over on itself worked with its tendency to move that way. Those blows broke into a man's midsection towards the core with more force than uppercuts that shifted the body upward in the way the stomach muscles were expected to work. The exception to this was a dead center straight on punch when a guy was inhaling or his belly was sucked in.
He taped his hands for these exercises. The sequence: pound the upper stomach, wait for the breaking pattern to change, watch the pulse of reaction under the navel, and then when he saw there was a split-second opening when the lower belly was most vulnerable, crash into Marco right there where he was now most prone to injury, deep pain, and a shock that would disorient him, put him off-balance, and run from that spot down into his groin and upward into the upper quadrants of his abdominal wall, a resounding thud that would be felt to Marco's core. Volpe would see Marco grab for that spot-something he had never done anywhere in a contest-tap it twice, and, yes, maybe even drop to his knees, holding himself from falling onto his chest and belly with the free hand, slowly lowering his forehead to the mat so that no one could see the expression on his face. That would mark his first and last loss. It was Marco's promise to himself that if he ever had to hold his gut in pain and tap, he would never compete again. If he fell, he would never stand up to fight again and put his gut on the line.
Marco had the perfect gutpuncher's body. He was not too tall. That made for a lot of exposed front body, and regulation gear meant super-low-rise trunks or jeans, the waistband just covering the top of the guy's public hair. Long-waisted men rarely did well in the raw sport. Even the tightest abs on a tall man are stretched over two long, rangy columns that, the longer they are, the more they are likely to bend inward like thick rubber when hit. Usually these men were also thin in proportion to the rest of their body and so there was less protection-fewer muscle fibers woven together-for what lay underneath. Heavy men did not compete. There was a body-fat percentage rule, nothing greater than 8 percent. Marco's height at 5' 9" and weight at 155 pounds, and the proportions of his body over a narrow chest wall and hips were ideal. The ledge of abdominals such bodies display and the flat pack below it were the aesthetically perfect type. Flat pecs, carved shoulders and moderately muscled upper arms framed his midsection across the top, calling attention downward to it. His 30" waist, measured just above the pelvis where his midsection tapered slightly in drew the eyes across to his navel and downward to where the classic "V" of ropey obliques disappeared on both sides into the lowest part of his belly, just out of view, where thick hair covered the most seriously sensitive place on any man's body just where, out of view, muscle meets bone.
Two knots of muscle clustered over the tip of his sternum, like the first knuckles of the forefingers of two fists pressed together by a boxer before he meets his punisher. The six-pack emblematic of young maleness below was perfectly symmetrical, reflecting his exact posture. Completely undressed, Marco's underbelly seemed to suggest another pair of muscles, separated by a slight indentation. Only Beppo saw this area, except for the weigh-in crew who measured the gutpunchers' shoulders, chest and waist. No pictures were allowed at the weigh-ins, but some pics were out there in private hands of the full length of Marco's body, from the notch under his throat to the hidden eighth pair of abs. At least this is way Marco had been before Volpe speared him with the golden hand spike a year ago. Now there was that place just a two-finger breadth below his navel, his rosebud of tissue, his Adam's scar, which on Marco was every so slightly indented, suggesting that subtle weakness of the opening into every man's body that had served as the way in for his life blood until just a few minutes after he was born. It was officially an "innie," but one invited a closer look to see what might be hidden in the shadow and slightly obscured by a collection of straight, dark hair-up close, you could count them-around it like a eyelashes. The navel lashes gathered into a narrow trail, ran over Marco's sweet spot, now also his hurt spot. For years, he had been photographed by fans of the contests, but others who saw random images of him when they googled "navel" compared his body to classic Greek sculpture.
Taking pictures was prohibited at weigh-ins, but a few resourceful admirers had caught him unawares and shot a series of images that captured Marco's body as he saw it every morning when he stepped out of the shower and examined his chest and abs, flexing and stretching his young body. It was a perfect body and, for that reason, it had to be put to the ultimate test, like Mishima's, at the moments of perfection. A strange ritual to most, no? Only people who followed the gutpunching scene knew what the spectacle could do to people who watched it, especially live and up close. This was especially true for the young guys who wanted to be like Marco, fight for and against the most vulnerable place in the gutboxing body. They imagined facing him, flex for flex, touching abs (not fists) according to the protocol of the contest, then fight that body, feel his gut flesh when they punched him, seeing it redden, and check out the impassive expression on Marco's face as his stomach took round after round of punishment that only he a few other males on the planet could absorb. It was well known that some of the beefiest bodybuilders had pussycat bellies that caved in from a few light punches.
Fighting him, they imagined, they would feel every punch he took in a kind of sympathetic experience in their own bellies. Rows of muscle contracted involuntarily as they would level some of the most measured, intense, precise hits they could muster in trying to break down his strength and power, there where men are most sensitive because of the spare muscling around their belly button and the closeness of the belly to a man's other pleasure center. The pain-pleasure mix is just there in a man in those two places-the balls and the belly. In both places, the most intense pleasure and the most intense pain can be felt, rarely together in most men. But in some men, the belly is a substitute for the balls and the dick. Yeah, and they're connected by underground tendons and nerves. No doubt. And that's part of the mystery of gutpunching and its sexy raw feelings. Just like after being smacked in the groin, a deep stomach punch makes most men feel a little sick. But for some men-like Marco-it is a place where pain shades into a pleasure that is matched (or is it mimicked?) by orgasm. For some, mostly young men, it is its own way of cumming, and sometimes the two just might be made to happen together. What's that about? Who knows?
Once in his second year of competition, Marco had contracted a photographer to take a series of pictures of his body to capture every shadow and feature of his abs, from every angle, from tight flex and stretch, to relaxed. The collection was known to only a few supporters of the contests. Now in his tenth year of putting his prized midsection on the line, the body looked the same as it had at the start-to the tutored eye, however, with one exception. The treasure trail had always tufted a bit about two inches under the umbilico. It had always been there and the hair above and below it was thin and sparse. It looked as though it was had been brushed, the way a boy's head of hair when he is four years old is parted and combed straight. Like Marco himself-especially his torso-thing and spare. Now that tuft lay over the sweet spot, a little bit scruffy, as if it had been roughed up, a twist from the symmetry the path that pointed the way down among the lightning veins' source and up to his man scar. Everyone knew the tuft, especially his opponents who had seen it damp with sweat and flattened by dozens of fists.
Marco wore only his black cotton, low-rise speedos with a wide band of elastic that flattened the top of the trunks against his rock-hard belly. The top margin of his dense, low groin moss was just visible up close. For spectators, it looked like a shadow. No shoes. It was all tight, smooth, mostly angular body, olive complexion. Marco never sat in the sun to darken his skin. Occasionally, he would lie back on some ledge out in the country near a stream or on a rock at the beach, always far away from anyone's eyes or hands. Then he would lower his legs over the edge of the surface, stretch back, arched up, his belly heading skyward, slightly curved, a bit of space under the small of his back. Then he would let the sun warm his belly, totally exposed, for 10-20 minutes-his stomach completely, dangerously relaxed.
Thinking about such moments, Marco was walking through the narrow passage to the contest area that would make him again the champion or break him. Apprehensive, yes, even scared as never before. He forgot the nervous feeling in his gut as adrenalin pumped through his chest and arms, his legs and lower back, and spread out from deep in the core his abs protected. He looked straight ahead, tight and firm, the air from the contest arena blowing on his face and chest. The dim area between him and the way out into the bright open space, a ring with a sand floor, seemed safe. He would face Volpe. Midway down the passage two side entrances made a cross with his passageway. They were used by the officials and trainers who would follow him. The same set-up was there for Volpe on the other side of their contest. He had made his way through and was standing in the contest ring, his second replaced by someone called Tarko. Marco could hear Volpe's fans cheering as he crossed paths with Volpe's second, Strega, who approached him from the right side completely unnoticed because of the dark and noise. Strega had be equipped with a small object about the size of a flashlight. He waited for Marco who he knew was seconds away.
Overhead at the crossway was a skylight that shined a blast f light down as a circle of glare. Marco paused for his final regrouping there as he always did for a full final stretch. He reached up as far as he could, pointing to the skylight like a diver, arching his back, rounding out his belly ever so slightly, expecting next to tighten his gut for all it was worth.
At the moment between arch and flex, lurking and waiting there, Strega steps forward to Marco's torso and tazes him once, the laser light-point of the instrument pointed at Marco's most vulnerable spot.
The crowd was roaring and never heard Marco groan as though he had been stabbed or shot. He lurched forward and to the left, crashed against the passageway wall, hunched over, cradling his punished lower belly, just above the trunk line. Both arms across his underbelly, Marco felt disorganized. The piercing burning feeling shocked him. The second disappeared back into the darkness. Marco never saw a person or an object. All he knew was that he had been hit with something. He looked down, expecting to see a wound, but the red spot forming on his skin was covered by the tuft of belly hair that hid his sweet spot and drew attention to it.
The contest was due to begin in five minutes, at noon. The crowd had been there for over an hour. Roaring louder in anticipation of Marco's emergence from the tunnel as if to bring him out sooner, no one in it heard Marco's second guttural groan as the shock wave of the taze hit him again. Regrouping, he still didn't know what had happened. He only knew that he had been injured in the exact place where he had just been attacked with something, where Volpe had landed his devastating hit. The jolt of 50,000 volts that broken into his sensitive lower belly made it impossible for him to use his stomach muscles for a few seconds. It was a different kind of pain from the spear strike of a human hand or fist. From years of competing, he knew not to touch or pat the area, even where no one could see him. It was a reflex he had overridden. But tazing was something new and he discipline was not enough to prevent him from covering and cradling his gut. The old, deep reflex had won out, just like Volpe's plan to sabotage Marco's midsection. He was in an agony he had never felt, not from Volpe's strike, not from that one time as a kid that got him interested in gutpunching, when going up to catch a pass during a beach tag football game when he was 15, the father of his best friend accidentally clipped Marco with his elbow in the pit of the stomach just above the navel. As a kid, he was very thin and not at all muscular. The big man's elbow had caught him during and stretch, his belly sucked in to the max. He lay on the ground, rolling around in deep gut pain for more than 20 minutes while his friend and his friend's dad tried to relieve Marco's misery. Once they got him to be still, still groaning, his friend Bobby's dad gently massaged Marco's chest and belly. That was maybe the worst feeling of gut pain he had ever known, but he was young and weak in through the middle. That and Volpe's vicious strike last year still didn't match what the young competitor now felt in his lower abdomen.
In a few minutes he would have to face Volpe as his publicity photos showed him and offer his stomach to the most powerful hits Volpe would be able to produce, especially what his opponent had in store for his lower belly, that spot Volpe knew would have been thrown into a a state of shock by Beppo's tazing. In a few minutes, Marco knew, he would not be able to recover in order to be savaged by Volpe's fists.
He groaned a third time trying to straighten up-no, trying to straighten up muscles quivering in spasm. Marco tried to flex his abs but found it was a mostly hopeless effort. He couldn't tighten his midsection anywhere. Even the upper abs were out of synch with his breathing, under his chest. He was unable to protect his core the full length of his powerful-looking belly. The shape was still there and he looked strong, but it was all show. It flashed through his mind that once he reached the contest area-somehow-Volpe would go right for the spot. It wouldn't take much. Or maybe he would toy with Marco to make him look bad, watch his react to light punches to the astonishment of the spectators. The shape of his torso, a work of years or training, looked like marble, but his body held feelings he had never felt before. Somehow, he had to hide that from the crowd, if not from Volpe, who knew exactly what was up.
As a tease and to draw attention to his midsection, Marco usually ran his third and fourth fingers along the few inches of vertical ridge above his navel when he first appeared in front of a crowd. The fans loved to see his blank stare as he traced the long deep groove from just below his sternum down to his Adam's scar. Marco's expression never changed during the ritual, even though he felt a lot of pleasure on the surface of his abs touching it lightly. It turned him on as much as his audience. All he knew was that he was out in the light and the crowd was roaring. He didn't really remember how he walked out, straightened up, looking like the champion he had been for almost a decade. True to form, hid fingers ran down his belly. His face was a blank. Maybe some noticed it, but this time Marco's fingers ran over the belly button and down to the treasure trail and, briefly, paused the tuft of hair over his most vulnerable spot. A glow of red could be seen, but the mean burn under his gut hair couldn't be made out in the glare of the fighting field lights. Under that tangle of hair, deep in his belly, Marco's abdomen had been compromised. He was in deep trouble. Though the quivering had stopped, now there was a worsening ache that threatened to pull Marco over onto to itself, to make him bow in pain to Volpe.
That didn't happen and he extended his arms out to his sides, somewhat like a crucifix, to put his body on display. He usually did this as the crowd started its chant: Mar-co, Mar-co, Mar-co! He usually pointed with his hands to the sides of his midsection at its narrowest place. This time, the arms were stretched out but the hands were palms open. Only at this point did Marco realize his who body had been weakened by the voltage of the taze. The already weakened spot was on fire. After the first wave of feeling from the attack to his lower belly, the pain now concentrated in a place the size of a man's fist just under his belly button. He was in shock. Marco knew he couldn't turn around-no, wouldn't do what anyone should do who had been injured the way he had. Going back into the dark passage was not an option-back to his dressing room where he could give way to the feelings, see what would happen next as his body tried to recover, maybe find Beppo waiting for him. He would try to walk off the pain, rotate his torso, take slow, deep breaths and see the extent of the damage to his gut. Maybe Beppo would be able to relieve some of the agony if he could stretch out on the trainer's table.
Instead, Marco faced Volpe. His arms moved slowly down his sides. He looked at Volpe who returned his glance with a vicious stare. A thickly-muscled man, more than six feet tall, broad-shouldered with a bodybuilder's physique, Volpe stood in the sand in dark green spandex tights cut very low-regulation low. He looked at Marco's eyes and saw the fear nobody else guessed was in his trembling core. He could see the bruising forming around where Marco's treasure trail briefly widened. Marco showed nothing to the crowd of what he was feeling in his devastated belly at the center of his body, from between the flat, strong pecs, down over the double knot over his breastbone, radiating out over the slabs of muscle that stood like columns on either side of the smooth deep trough that divided his torso perfectly in half, further down to the epicenter of his fighter's body, that opening that is sealed over in a man's body. Two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, a mouth, and two openings that emptied out his body-nine openings in all-and the one closed with a knot at birth, the most erotic "opening" into Marco's body. Volpe surveyed that target and then, half-smiling, his eyes drifted down one level further to that spot, resting his eyes where they converged on the place he knew would be the way to his victory over Marco. Marco saw when Volpe caught him with that glance and he could almost feel a strike. A reflex move tried to tighten his abs, but nothing happened by deep pain. His torso looked like armor, but he was as weak as a teenage boy. Marco looked down, too, under the architecture of his rectus abdominis, to the shadow in his navel, and on to where he could just make out the rounding growth of hair he like to tease, where he could feel a pulse, but where now a slight swelling was taking place. The pulse was almost as strong as his heartbeat.
Then their eyes met. Marco was in deep trouble. Deep in his belly he was in deep trouble and both of them knew it. Volpe grabbed the ends of the fingers of his right hand tensed for his spear strike and drove them into the tough palm of his left hand. He felt a jolt, mostly at his solar plexus he thought, since his breathing was now off. Maybe I was the only other person in the audience who saw the exchange. Spectators of the contest could only look at the marble-like shapes of Marco's midsection and expect what was to be a battle he would surely win. He was the gutpunch fighter in every sense. Nobody could imagine he would lose. He might suffer but he would win. He had been battered in the stomach many times for the regulation 20-minute fight. For days his skin would be bruised. Puffy areas emerged where knuckles had made missile attacks on his belly flesh. Marco would fight the pain during gutpunching contests, smiled at it even, sneered. So well prepared for so long, he had always been ready for whatever his opponent could dish out-until that moment a year ago with Volpe, who was back to get him once and for all where he had hurt him.
Marco resisted the animal tendency to rub a tender spot on the body that is sore and in pain. The rules of contest were no to touch the belly anywhere, any time during a fight-unless it was over. And so Marco had to fight not only Volpe but also the need to rub his abs where the deep ache was worsening at the base of his body's core. How he wanted to massage his ravaged underbelly and feel out the extent of the injury the tazing had done to his body-and he knew he was hurt. He fought not to know and he fought not to fear what he was in store for. Just what would happen to him and the midsection he had worked to perfect for most of life since he had taken that surprise elbow. It was the in the week after that his friend's dad had showed the series of abdominal exercises that would lead to a thickening and hardening of his young body's gut. And the experience of unbelievable pain but also a weird kind of pleasure that the experience had produced was what would lead him to the gutpunching underground, to the trip abdos as the French gutfighters called it.
For the first time as a body fighter he was worried. After all, how much can a man's stomach take? Even those words had an odd attraction and fascination about them. He ran them through his imagination two times, then a third. The unfair attack by Strega obviously angered him, but the damage was done and being angry would only let him more mistakes in trying to ward off Volpe's attack. Twenty-five minutes of exchanges of body punches were about to begin.
Look at a young man's body and its vulnerabilities. These had fascinated Marco since even before he took that elbow in the pit of his stomach. When he was seven, he had seen an episode of the earliest television series Superman in which the very human looking action figure is trapped and bombarded with rays that hurt even the man from Krypton. Marco had watched as the man of steel was shocked by lightning licks that hit him in the neck and chest, shoulders and arms, legs-and what caught Marco's attention-Superman's midsection, the area just at his belt-line and above. That seemed to be the place, he thought, that the jolts and shocks finally got to him and weakened him, bringing him to his knees and bent him over, finally collapsing. And through it all, Superman had not covered his stomach or touched his gut where he was in pain from the charges of power that lashed his middle. Finally overcome by gut pain, the vulnerable looking super man had had to give in.
Sure. Men are vulnerable-very vulnerable-in other places: eyes, throat, the lower back, and of course the balls. But the stomach with its appearance of strength was special. It could be made nearly as hard as tendon or cartilage when flexed, but it was also soft, and underneath the muscles that keep the body erect are a man's innards, his "guts"-his courage. The fire that produces the body's energy and keeps it moving burns in the gut. The blood pools there after eating. The gut becomes even more tender at that time. At the top of the gut is the solar plexus that when hit just the right way can knock out breathing and disable the strongest, most muscle-bound man. Traveling down, there is the pit, the concave place a man can make deeper and more vulnerable by sucking in his stomach, creating that effect of a vacuum. A fist fits perfectly in that pocket and can fill it and bring a man down, doubled up, when perfectly placed and timed and driven in hard. Soldiers like to test each other there. So do adolescent males estimating each other's manliness and general strength and sexual power. All three are related. A tough-gutted guy is going to have a hard erection. And then the navel itself, the mark over the pit, the natural target and where the meanest punches tend to be landed.
But you're usually in well-guarded territory any lower, which is why the wide waistband of boxers' trunks are placed over the navel and slightly above and below, covering that whole inviting target, and the cup guards the lower belly as well as the groin. No superman, Marco was just a man and that is what gutpunching was about for him. There was his vulnerable belly that he had made almost attack-proof. Almost. And he would put it to the test because if he could take anything there, he didn't have to prove himself anywhere else in his body. First, gutpunching is about proving you are able to take a punch-in the stomach. That ritual is well known among all kids and also between kids and their girlfriends. Everyone had noticed it, the pleasure a girl gets in seeing her boyfriend take a shot in the gut in front of his friends and not react. If he absorbs it without much of a response, he's a man and her man.
Just before the bell for the contest, I recalled that young, thin kid walking with his friend and two girls, the one next to him wanting to have him. A street in Philadelphia. He has a loose t-shirt over his super-lean frame. He was probably only 16 or 17 years old. The shirt covered his jeans, which rode low on his hips. You could see their shadow under the damp, v-neck t-shirt. You could see where his navel must have been a few inches above the jeans. Shirtless, the kid would have shown "boy abs," maybe even a slightly concave midsection. His girlfriend, wanting to impress her friends, caught the kid when he way looking away toward his chum with a mean fist deep into his 28-inch front. From across the street, I could hear the "Oooof!" and felt the guttural groan as he grabbed his pit with both hands in a sickly embrace and leaned over a parked car. He couldn't breathe. "Arrrr-arrrr---arrrr---!" The kid's head was nodding back and forth. "Aw, fuck! Fuck! Nooo--!" He brought his left arm up, covered he eyes and fell against the fender again, holding his shocked belly with the other hand. He was kid, in tears from the pain. It took him a good ten minutes to get over that sucker punch by his girfl"friend" that caught him completely unawares, unflexed, soft, taking in a breath, and straighten up, and when he did, he looked at her, finally taking in a deep breath, holding his stomach around the navel: "Don't you ever fucking do that again-ever!" By now he was sitting on the fender, slightly bent over, but no longer holding his stomach. Only the other guy knew what had happened and what it felt like. The girl giggled nervously. The kid's friend sat next to him, not too close-this was a tough neighborhood-and he didn't say anything. He had been tested that way by a girl, too. With guys, it was always set up. You'd ask him to punch you or you'd play a "game" about taking punches. He finally asked: "Are you OK, man?" He wasn't making fun of a weakness. The kid's hand was now hanging down. He stood up, rubbing his belly slowly, taking deep breaths, his hand reaching up under the t-shirt. At one point, he lifted the shirt to see if there was a mark. No sign of the punch made it clear that it doesn't take much of a hit to hurt a young lean guy. They walked off, the kid's arms at his sides. The guys followed the girls. These guys were now buddies after a strange ritual. Guys know each other in certain ways like that. They will react the same way to a guy who has been nabbed in the balls.
And now there's Marco standing in the contest arena, his tenderized lower belly about to face a contest might not make it through. Volpe knows what to do. Off to one side is Beppo, afraid to make contact with Marco. He looks at the champ's breathing, the sweat collecting over the top ledge of his six-pack. He looks at that midsection, the navel, the hair and the rounded place sloping up to the flat, hard trapezoid of Marco's underbelly, the black speedos.

There was no turning back, no way out, no way to postpone the contest. Marco had a bad feeling about what was to go down. Most of it was centered on his lower belly where only minutes before he had been ambushed, at the old injury. He had to show his fans his courage as he had so many times before. Only Volpe and his henchmen knew the condition he was in. Volpe sneered, running his eyes down Marco's lean chest, upper abs, navel-and the place just above his trunk line, super low as required by the contest rules. He was turned on by the image he had of Marco grabbing his own lower gut, which would signal the end of his reign, the end of his punishment that day. Marco's face refused to show his fear of what might happen to him and what he would have to do, the humiliation of having to cover up the pain he was in that badly weakened spot.
The lights dimmed all around him. Bright spotlights converged to make the circle of trading blows, fifteen feet in diameter. The buzzer went off like the start of a swim race. By the rules, the champ had the first shot. Following shots could happen in turn as quickly or slowly as the men decided. Fist strike, knee, kick-any of these were allowed, and no warning about which one it would be was to be given. A downward plunging fist crashed into Volpe's iron abs. Smack! Marco felt hardly any give. He was tired all over from the punishment he had taken on the way to the ring and his blows would have less effect. Still, a red welt appeared almost instantaneously on Volpe's clipped muscle wall. Volpe just smiled, looked down at the mark left my Marco's knuckles. He shook his head "No" . . . The twist of Marco's body delivering the punch had an unexpected effect. His body looked at its best as threw the punch, like the marble statue of a discus thrower, but this thick rope of torso that turned half way around was hit by its own shock. Lightning reached the area just under his navel. Deep agonizing pain broke into Marco. Every offensive move he would make would hurt his body, just there, too.
Marco lurched forward ever so slightly registering intense pain. The V surrounding his underbelly was perfectly formed and rock hard, but at the mouth of that V and running down in a split second to the top of his bush, his beautiful abs were on fire. Only Volpe knew what the barely detectable jerk forward was about. He saw the spasm that dug into Marco's exposed manspace, his nickname for his stomach.
Volpe took advantage of the moment. He would have a little fun with his hated rival. In that quick gap between the punch Marco threw and his body's reaction, Volpe brought a knee up into the pit of Marco's stomach. The force of the strike was centered just under Marco's sternum. Volpe's heavy, bony knee filled the slight above Marco's navel as he inhaled. Reactions were expected and allowed-except for covering up. In fact, the crowds liked them as much as any other part of a contest. Marco folded over the ramrod that pushed the air out of his lungs and compressed his insides together. The crushing knee hurt him where he usually would have felt nothing. His mouth opened slightly and he emitted that "Oof!" you feel as much as sound out when you have been taken by a sucker punch surprise. He braced himself, his hands on his thighs, eying Volpe. A few seconds passed and Marco rushed in with a front kick to Volpe' navel. A precision blow coming from Marco was powerful. The underside of the ball of his right foot jammed into the space where there is no muscle on a man's body. Volpe took it hard. It hurt him a lot and surprised him. But it was Marco's best effort and his last really effective strike. Volpe was hurt, that line of pain running down from his birth scar into the place under his trunks. But his timing was not put off. In a flash, he returned the favor and nailed Marco with an uppercut to the navel-left foot, dead center to Marco's center. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, Marco was famous for absorbing punishment, especially there, where most men are especially vulnerable, that little indentation surrounded in young men by a few black hairs. But again, in tensing up to absorb the shock of the punch, he felt a driving pain under his navel. The crowd now for the first time sensed something was wrong. Marco never reacted to navel shots, but he seemed to have been hurt by this one. Reddened, his middle abs were in fact OK, but the aftereffect in his underbelly was deadly. Again he doubled over, almost bowing to Volpe, reached for his thighs, but stopped short of grabbing them. Volpe saw Marco's lower belly snap into spasm as the camp's eye widened and he showed fear for the first time.
A vicious karate thrust audibly cracked against Volpe's solar plexus. He had that involuntary momentary half-sick feeling that comes when the rhythm of breathing has been tampered with. Volpe's teeth showed, bright and perfect in a mouth that gave out a whimper. His body's response to the move angered him. Hate rushed in where his breath had been-and then it happened.
A punch, a knee, and now a kick, a kick that changed everything for Marco. With reflex speed powered by mean anger, Volpe brought his size 13 foot up from the ground just at the limit of what was allowed by the rules, a millimeter above the waistband of Marco's tight, black speedos and fully three inched further above into Marco's lower gut-right there, the spot Volpe had trained to target with dummies and sparring partners. He hit home. If he had been on a football field, the kick would have sent a ball over the field goal. The field here was a precious few square inches over Marco's long injured and just recently redamaged sweet spot. It drove way into his underbelly, his body, and his gutpunching championship. It was the hardest kick Volpe had ever delivered to another man's body anywhere in the stomach and it hit home perfectly. The lights seemed to brighten in the circle as Volpe pulled back the weapon his body had become. His foot even smarted from the kick.
Slo-mo would show that his toes and the ball of his foot had bent back to a place that looked unnatural. He backed up to watch the reaction, easing out of the circle of light so that Marco was alone in the spotlight. For Marco, everything slowed down. Every eye was on that masterpiece of a body, but like the weather when it changes very quickly on the open ocean, the crowd sensed something dangerous was happening somewhere and they would see the effects in the next few seconds. Three seconds, maybe five, passed as Marco's body mad up its mind. He looked across to Volpe, whose face was out of view. All he could see was the chest and abs, and feet. Then he let out a deep guttural groan that started where he had been hit and coursed up through his ravaged belly and out of his mouth, which was wide open. Out came pain. Marco curled over his body, slowly sank to one knee in agony. He seemed to look at his left hand, then his right. "AWWWW FUCK ---" he groaned in two separated, slow sounds that were fused together, and his other knee hit the ground. Still a few seconds more passed and then the impossible happened.
For the first time, he looked up, helpless, pain written across his handsome face. With every ounce of strength left in his body, top to bottom, he straightened his midsection. It even seemed to arch out a bit. The muscles showed perfect, but the purplish mark around his treasure trail was the focus of everyone looking at this. He caught himself falling forward, his left hand breaking a collapse splayed out ahead of his left knee supporting him. His body quivered in pain. The left arm seemed to be exhausted from the pain he was feeling in the most vulnerable spot in his body, but the elbow was locked and he was steadied as his eyes closed above a mouth that was wide open, teeth clenched. Another gutwrenching moan, a massive cry. It was more that Marco could take.
He grabs for his lower belly instinctively. It's over. His right hand covers and protects the spot where he had finally been defeated. The crowd is totally quiet. The other hand comes up and the left forearm adds a layer over his right hand. His body folds over his hand and forearm as he sits onto his heels. Unable to even groan, he finally covers that area where he has been broken. Slowly, he bends over, his forehead touching the ring floor.
The two-buzz signal sounded and the competition was over. Marco's body was a center of pain and the epicenter was that sweet spot underbelly, the most vulnerable place in any man's body after all. Volpe walked into the light, raised his arms, looking down on Marco's writhing body, now rocking back and forth in agony unlike anything he had ever felt. Beppo jumped onto the platform where it had all taken place as Marco's exhausted body rolled onto one side. Kneeling behind Marco's back, he covered Marco's body with a ring towel and reached under the screen. He put his hand on Marco's upper stomach to check his breathing. He moved around to the other side so that the crowd and Volpe could not see the contortions of pain on Marco's handsome face as he felt the fullest damage of the strike that had taken his career and championship away worked its way deeper into his gut and groin. Fifteen minutes passed before Marco could stay still. Finally, he was able to unbend, but the pain was still immense. Beppo straightened Marco's legs and rolled the towel to make a pillow for him as Marco tried to recover. He never let go of his wounded gut. Beppo's left hand gently massaged his belly at the trunk line. His hand went under the elastic band to bring some warmth to the place where the muscle ends and the pelvis underneath can be felt, where the treasure trail ends.